Doing It for Our Children: Cutting Social Security and the BP Oil Spill

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Dean Baker
TPMCafé, May 28, 2010

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It seems more than a little bizarre that the folks who are so out front yelling about budget deficits because of the burden they will place on our children rarely seem to express much concern about the environment, such as the disaster now being played out in the Gulf. If we take the deficit hawks at their word, then we should expect them to be among the most vocal environmentalists in the country.

After all, the central issue in environmental policy is the extent to which we are willing to incur higher costs today in order to allow our children to enjoy a cleaner environment in the future. This is most explicit in the case of global warming, where the issue is reducing greenhouse gas emissions now in order to prevent global warming several decades in the future. But, the basic question of trading current expenses for a better future comes up in almost every environmental debate.

Certainly it is front and center in the "drill baby, drill" debate.

Undoubtedly we would get oil somewhat cheaper with a drill-everywhere-now policy (even if advocates hugely overestimate the impact), but such a policy will both cause more environmental damage and also deplete the resources available to our children. By drilling the oil out of the ground today, we take away the possibility that this oil can be tapped thirty or forty years in the future if it becomes necessary for some reason.

The logic of this tradeoff of current costs for future benefits would lead us to believe that, because of their concerns for children and grandchildren, the deficit hawks would be leading the crusade to hang the BP crew. After all, their spill has done more harm to future generations than several years' worth of pork barrel spending.

Yet, the deficit hawks don't seem to have noticed the spill for the most part. This might make one wonder how much the deficit hawks really are worried about our children and grandchildren. One might even if get the impression that the deficit hawks really don't have give a damn about our children and grandchildren - they just want to cut Social Security and the other programs that allow ordinary working people to enjoy a decent standard of living. But, that is just speculation.

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.